University of Minnesota
Office of Human Resources
http://www.umn.edu/ohr
612-625-2016

How Can I Learn What Students Are Thinking About and Learning from the Class So Far?

Here are some alternatives to consider.

  1. Use an early term student feedback survey. Here's a sample survey with directions for talking with students about the process both before and after you give the survey.
  2. Systematically analyze student work under different approaches. (E.g., Did you get better results on an assignment when using activity X to introduce the assignment than you did when you introduced it by…?)
  3. Give a brief survey specific to an activity. (e.g., After students complete their first writing assignment and receive their grade, give them a 2-5 question survey about the helpfulness of the feedback on their drafts for that assignment.)
  4. Select an appropriate Classroom Assessment Technique (CAT). For example, give out 3 X 5 cards and ask students to respond to 1 or 2 questions such as "What was the most important thing you learned in today's class?" "What important question remains unanswered?" Here's a site that contains numerous examples for you to try.
  5. Invite a consultant to visit your class to talk with students. A CTL consultant can conduct a 20-25 minute feedback session which works like this: The class is divided into small groups and asked to come to consensus in their response to two questions: What about this class helps you learn? (Give specific examples.) How could this class be improved? (Give specific examples.) Students discuss their ideas for approximately 10 minutes in small groups, and then they report their responses to the whole class. The consultant asks for clarification if necessary and determines amount of agreement. The consultant then shares the information with the instructor in a private meeting.
  6. Ask a colleague to review some of the work your students have done (completed assignments, tests, etc.) and ask if your students' performance is in line with what one would expect from students at this level.
  7. Take a suggestion box to class every period and encourage students to leave you notes about (1) what they liked about the class; (2) how you might improve the class; (3) what helps or interferes with their learning; or (4) questions they'd like you to answer.

Cross-cultural notes: The U.S. is generally considered an egalitarian culture - differences in status among people are not as strongly determined by roles as they might be in other cultures. Students respect their instructors, but they don't consider them to be perfect. Undergraduates may tend to view themselves as consumers of the product of education. As such, they feel it is appropriate for them to assess the quality of the product they are purchasing - i.e., your teaching skill. Asking students in the US to evaluate your teaching does not diminish your authority, nor does it undermine their confidence in you.